Edinburgh Film Festival Report: Thumbsucker

Todd Brown, Founder and Editor

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I've gone on record a few times already talking about my high hopes for American indie Thumbsucker so I'm mighty jealous of Richard Brunton. who's already caught the film and says it's a keeper ... read on for his thoughts ...

I wasn't keen to go and see Thumbsucker, partly because I thought it was too close to a Hollywood movie for me, partly because I'd seen the trailer and not really fancied it, but mainly because I knew everyone was raving about it as being a great small movie and that can often turn me off. After all if there are so many people raving about it, it gets big names behind it, then is it still such a small movie?

However I took Todd's advice and I arrived early enough to get a prime centre seat. This one was once again in the main screen at the Cameo, a superb location for a movie, with one of the biggest screens I've seen this side of an IMAX.

The first thing you have to say about this movie after seeing it is that Keanu Reeves is funny as hell. He has some superb lines to deliver, and he does them so well. I couldn't decide if there was some tongue in cheek writing going on while thinking about his previous roles in Point Break and The Matrix, subtle sayings and nuances of the character just made me think of that and laugh. Anyway, that's the first thing that has to be said, he is superb in the movie as Dr. Perry Lyman, the transcendental dentist!

A similar mention needs to be given for Benjamin Bratt as Matt Schraam - you'll know him when you see him - who plays a TV Cop entered into drug rehabilitation and is struggling to stay on the straight an narrow. His performance is extremely tongue in cheek...and indeed hand in...well. Let's say that he was willing to have much more than just the mickey taken out of him.

Vince Vaughn also surprised me with a really good performance as Mr. Geary, the teacher in charge of the debating team. From what I've seen of him before he really does back down his performance and play a strong role. I was impressed by his acting, and I really will have to re-evaluate my opinion of his talent after this movie.

Since I'm talking about the talent in the movie I'll keep going and give the biggest and most deserved mention to the lead, Lou Taylor Pucci as Justin Cobb, the teenager who is just starting out on his journey of really growing up, finding girls, himself and a new relationship with his parents, something we've all been through (unless you were finding boys!) around that age and we have all faced with equally different results. It's only in this role that I've ever seen him act, and he does so perfectly convincingly, he doesn't falter at all throughout the movie. On screen he's totally engaging, as many actors far older than him must aspire to, his face just draws your eyes to him and with a subtle and almost meek performance he commands the scenes he enters.

It's interesting when looking at the roles of the parents. For the most part of the movie I thought Vincent D'Onofrio was the weaker part and the lesser actor, however I ended up feeling that this was down to his role and that of the disfunctional Father who is having severe problems coming to terms with his own life. Likewise I felt that Tilda Swinton was the stronger actor of the two, until the Father gained more scenes, then I felt she was much weaker and her storyline seemed relegated to merely showing us that another of the characters has their own problems, and to introduce us to Matt Schraam, the addicted to anything actor.

At the beginning of the movie we find that Jason has a problem, he sucks his thumb for comfort and the movie shows us in an easy and effective way what he actually feels and hopes for during these moments. The movie is about a few things, but really about the fact that we're all messed up in some way, we all have problems, and we all have to deal with them. It just makes it easier if we open up a little and deal with them together. Through the film it explores this through the idea of addiction, and how some people need to be addicted to something to get them through, from the extreme of the actor to the lead himself who starts out addicted to sucking his thumb.

Another issue brought out of this movie is the idea that drugs are the answer, and that if there is a problem with someone then they immediately should turn to a Doctor and attempt a cure. The idea that a miracle pill is the answer to everything is explored very well in the movie. It's clever actually that many of these issues are sneaked in through the back door (sorry Schraam!), in that there's a light and a humorous angle to many of the scenes yet we're dealing with a big and contentious issue. The moment where Jacob and the parents are sitting in with the Teachers discussing his symptoms and suddenly the answer is the magic pill for Attention Deficit Disorder. These symptoms being, as the mother describes, as vague as easily distracted, fidgeting, etc. In other words, a teenager!

That scene is very strong, and at that moment when the Teachers leap you don't know whether to laugh or feel awkward and ashamed that society has turned so easily to drugs being the answer instead of trying to turn to each other, open up a little, and not being so wrapped up in yourselves.

It's filmed really well, and apart from the dreamcomforting scenes and the representation of the effects of the ADD drug, you forget that you're watching a camera filming the movie. In fact I can't remember being aware of the shots themselves, which is an excellent thing and means that I turned to the movie and really got pulled in.

Although the ending is a little twee, and it is really a feel good movie, it's the journey that is the important part and what is said on the way. God, don't I sound like Dr Phil. Seriously, it has an interesting look at how families behave and keeps you wondering where everything is going to turn out. In particular it has a lot to say about addiction, drugs, and both teen and adult angst.

It's a funny movie, with Reeves getting the biggest laughs without a doubt, it's also very serious but given to you in a lighter tone. I'm really glad I went to see this and I was surprised to have liked it so much. It had a lot to say in an easy digestible style, much like the pill for ADD, I'd prescribe this to anyone in a heartbeat.

Review by Richard Brunton.

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